Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Convergence Culture, Qualitative Research, and the teaching of...

Henry JenkinsImage via WikipediaI have been reading Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins...and I also follow his blog now.  Convergence is about the ways that technologies/media are all coming together...even while they may be seeming to go off in different directions.  (That's the 2 second definition).

I have been thinking about these principles and how they apply to technologies in qualitative research.   If you consider the historical pathway of technologies in QR, you see how the introduction of a new technology (when it comes to be seriously taken up by researchers) leads to a kind of overdomination of that form of data for a period. 

Example:  Early anthropology is dominated by participant observation--the notebook/fieldnotes and the portable typewriter.

Example 2:  Enter cameras--and we begin to see photo studies that have a life of their own (Riis, Collier)

Example 3:  Tape Recorder....and the dominance of interviews.  This is something that still hangs over us. 

Well, now we have convergence culture--technologies in which everything is combined into one cell phone or other device,--audio and visual recording (photo and video), software for organizing materials, text facilities, and the phone and internet capacity for sending and sharing materials on the spot, geospatial tools for locating the data.  You can collect data, organize it, and share/represent it--all from one place. 

The digitalness of it makes it possible to merge and connect different forms of data with ease.  So, what does this imply for the ways we think about teaching qualitative research data?  I think it is fair to say that our qualitative research classes look much like, I think, they could have looked in the early 20th century (if they had had such a thing)...observations are taught as if we were in the South Pacific with Margaret Mead.  Photography is still suspect in many social science products.  I know I am going overboard to make my case...but you see what I mean.

For qualitative researchers my question is:  how do you teach methodology in an era of convergence culture?  How does the inter-connectedness of our data collection tools--the digitalness of it--reshape our notion of the separate pots of data.  Three trends that seem critical for me in overhauling my own qualitative research teaching are:

1.  Contexts:  All the data that is available to contextualize an issue or concern; all of the descriptive statistics, geolocating material, images--everything that can be drawn upon to understand the topic of inquiry.  How do you assemble this collection; curate the possibilities in service of understanding the issue?  YouTube, audioclips, photos, maps (GoogleWorld), articles, statistics, applications, blogs, tweets, etc.   This is a vastly different task than simply going to the library, looking in the card catalog (off or online) for the article you want, finding it on the shelf, making notes, and then putting the journal back on the vfc

2.  The data you make:  The many different forms of data that you make and how you make it.  What are the digital possibilities for being sensuously present in the world and with others thinking about a particular topic.  (Qualitative research is about the employment of the senses to understand naturalistic contexts...the senses that we are so uniquely endowed with, thus it is fair to say it is a sensuous activity). How are these forms of data collection now inter-related?  As interesting, how can we meet and greet in the virtual world?  This, too, is sensuous--as we use our eyes and ears to engage in social experience. 

3.  The data they make:  Now, more than ever, we can extend the senses and the forms of knowing by joining in collaboration with others (lay researchers, participants) to explore the data they collect on a project of shared interest.  They can tweet their experiences back to you; they can be mapped by their cell phones as they move through a day; they can photo and geolocate.  They can also join you in the process of trying to make sense of it.  Often they may have their own data collections, organized on the web as Flickr accounts, participation in communities of like-minded souls, or in blogs. 

I hope this doesn't frighten off the next semester of qualitative research students...hopefully, by then, I will have thought it through a bit more. 

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